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Creature feature: Call of the wild

John Dempsey is twitching after a bit of a tern in the weather

Published on March 26th 2009.

Creature feature: Call of the wild

WEATHER can be the most frustrating thing: A hard, strong westerly is aseawatcher’s dream, come the autumn on the Mersey, but at this time ofyear, you can end up cursing it.

A westerly, like the one that has ripped in off the Irish Sea for most ofthis week, effectively puts a block on spring, especially the migration of birds, and only the hardiest of swallows and wheatears have been pushing through the eye of the storm over the last few days.

So it wasn’t surprising that the mosslands behind the city lookedparticularly bare this week, with the last pink footed geese of wintermoving back north to Icelandic breeding grounds, and just a few wagtailsand pipits to suggest that spring migration is under way at all.

But this westerly wind won’t last forever, and once it drops, and moreimportantly, the wind swings into the south, the first real wave ofarrivals of birds moving up from Africa should begin to flood in ontired wings.

Ospreys are now back at the well-publicised nest site in North Walesnear Porthmadog, and sandwich terns have been seen off Hilbre, but thesebirds are just the tip of the migration iceberg.

Once the southerly winds create a “conveyor belt” for birds to scootnorth on, it won’t be long before the song of the willow warbler isheard again in Sefton Park, alongside the residentnuthatches, with their loud whistles and

uncanny tree scaling abilities.

Swallows will arrive in numbers, although small numbers have beentrickling north for the last week or so, and with the “big April push”will come house martins, chiff-chaffs and blackcaps.

If you’ve never gone looking for migrants on a spring morning, you don’tknow what you’re missing – it doesn’t matter if you can’t identify themall, just learn a few of the more regular songs – like that of thewillow warbler, here, and you’re away.

To listen this mp3 you need flash, click here to install

Good places to check, once the weather gets kinder, are the willows andfields around Leasowe lighthouse, and further round the north Wirralshore, Red Rocks.

On the other side of the water, the dune land around Cabin Hill, south ofFormby, Hightown’s dune system and the Marshside RSPB reserve, just northof Southport, are all great places to go migrant hunting.

The RSPB’s website has recordings of most birds, so that’s a good placeto start mastering the commonest songsters.

Once you’ve learnt a few, you’ll be hooked, and be ready for the realchallenge of our summer visitors when they arrive in force.

Here they come…

Look out for...

White dead nettle: One of the first flowers to join the yellow coltsfootand dandelions, but easily overlooked, on grassy banks everywhere. Only a few inches tall, but with lovely creamy blooms.

Hedgehogs: Back out of hibernation now, they’re back to playing motorroulette on our roads for the summer.

Frogspawn: Even the smallest garden ponds will have been full of croakyaction for the last week or so, but look out for the balls of frogspawnthat mean shoals of tadpoles are on the way in warmer weather.

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